Pentagon’s 2025 budget boosts personnel budget, cuts end strength

DoD plans to cut its active end strength by 7,800 service members, but grow its reserve forces in 2025, according to the 2025 budget request.

The active duty military will decline by 7,800 service members in 2025 as the services continue to struggle with recruiting shortfalls, according to 2025 budget request documents released March 11.

The Army expects an active end strength of 442,300 soldiers, 2,700 fewer than its authorized level. The Army National Guard believes it can maintain its end strength at 325,000, the same number Congress authorized for this year. The Army Reserves, however, is projected to grow to 175,800, an increase of 1,000 reservists over their authorization.

“It obviously reflects that we continue to work our way through the current challenges with recruiting. I do want to highlight that this budget submission will aid us significantly in our ongoing efforts to transform our recruiting enterprise from one that was really set in the 20th century to the one that will actually help us to recruit, identify and attract the workforce that we’re going to need well into the future,” Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo told reporters during the Pentagon press briefing Monday.

The Navy projects 332,300 active sailors, about 5,500 fewer than its authorized level. Currently, the service is well below its authorized level by about 8,000 sailors. At the same time, the service wants to add 500 troops to its reserve component.

The Marine Corps active end strength will stay the same as Congress authorized for this year: a total of 172,300 marines.

The Air Force expects its end strength to remain the same as well: a total of 320,000 active airmen. The service expects to add 2,700 troops to the Air National Guard, but downsize its reserve component by 2,600 reservists.

“We have had some recruiting challenges but strong retention, so a bit of a mixed picture on the manning side over the last couple years,” Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord told reporters during a press briefing.

Service members will receive a 4.5% raise in 2025, down from last year’s largest pay raise increase of 5.2% in 20 years. The civilian workforce will see a more modest 2% pay raise.

The Pentagon also plans to increase the income eligibility threshold for basic needs allowance, a monthly compensation for active-duty service members and their families whose gross household income falls below federal income thresholds. If passed, DoD would raise the threshold from 150% of the federal poverty level to 200%.

Service members will also get better deals on groceries as the Pentagon plans to spend over $120 million in additional funding for commissaries, providing service members with food savings of over 25% compared to the local stores.

All those compensation increases are part of the reason why the Pentagon plans to spend $181.9 billion, an increase of $8.9 billion, on military personnel, even though it expects its active end force to drop in 2025.

Additionally, DoD is requesting $547 million for suicide prevention initiatives, including hiring more mental health providers, addressing stigma around asking for help and seeking mental health care and promoting a culture of firearm safety. Of that total, $261 million will go toward implementing some of the 127 recommendations made by an independent review committee.

The Pentagon is also requesting $1.2 billion to prevent sexual assault and other harmful behaviors such as domestic violence, kidnapping or murder, among others. Approximately $651 million will go toward implementing recommendations made in 2021 by the independent review commission on sexual assault in the military and hiring more trained professionals to promote education and training efforts.

On the housing and construction front, DoD wants to spend $17.5 billion in 2025. For comparison, the department will receive $18.675 billion in discretionary funds for military construction projects, which is $2 billion above the budget request. Defense officials say they plan to spend $2.3 billion building new facilities, including barracks, dormitories, child development centers and medical clinics.

“All are must-haves, not nice-to-haves, that enable our total force to thrive,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told reporters during a press briefing Monday.

The Defense Department is currently functioning under a continuing resolution, which freezes spending at 2023 levels and prevents new programs and initiatives from starting. While Congress passed the 6-bill “minibus” last week, including the Military Construction-VA bill, it has yet to approve the 2024 defense budget.

“I do get tired of complaining about it. But unfortunately, the problem persists. We have been in a continuing resolution where we’re not able to make positive steps forward but can only keep doing what we were doing last time for now approaching 1800 days as of March 22, when we get to the end of this current CR. 1800 days out of the last 15 years — it’s an average of about five years out of 15 years. One-third of the time, we have been stuck in neutral rather than moving forward. That is a dysfunctional, harmful, unhealthy pattern that really needs to stop,” said McCord.


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